After retiring as an institutional coaching legend,
Villanova’s 2022 Commencement speaker shares
a few lessons that changed the game for him
It was news that just about broke the internet: Jay Wright had decided that the Men’s Basketball season that had just concluded was his last. Mere weeks after leading the Wildcats to their third Final Four appearance since 2016, he announced his retirement as Villanova’s William B. Finneran Endowed Head Men’s Basketball Coach on April 20.
It was a decision that was analyzed by the nation’s most prominent sports pundits. It dominated the headlines of top sports media outlets. It made college basketball fans everywhere scratch their heads. It even surprised some of those closest to the two-time NCAA national championship coach and 2021 inductee into the Naismuth Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But, upon reflection, they understood—it was simply the Wright thing to do.
Wright was leaving this high-stakes, high-profile job at the top of his game, and on his own terms, and was staying with the community he loves—and that loves him back.
At a news conference two days after his retirement was announced, Wright was joined by Villanova President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, '75 CLAS and Vice President and Director of Athletics Mark Jackson, whose voices were full of emotion as they lauded Wright’s impact across the University. Wright was also emotional as he recounted how he and his wife, Patty (Reilly) Wright '83 CLAS, decided together that 2021–22 would be his final season. They’d reached the pinnacle, and they—and the program—were ready for the next phase of life. "The greatest thing for us has always been just to be the coach,” Wright said. “Accolades, winning games—that has never been as big as just being the coach at Villanova.”
Words of wisdom from this year’s Commencement address
Weeks after the news broke, Wright traded his typical courtside spot at the Finneran Pavilion for center stage at Villanova Stadium as the University’s Commencement speaker. After 21 seasons of leading the Villanova Men’s Basketball program and winning the hearts of the Nova Nation, this Bucknell grad finally became an official alum, receiving the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.
Like the nearly 2,000 members of the Class of 2022 who sat before him, he stood on the precipice of the next chapter in his journey—in his case, one that will include a role as special assistant to Father Peter. But that Friday in May, he took the opportunity to make his final coaching appearance at Villanova, sharing a few pages out of his winning playbook with the Class of 2022, their families and friends.
For those who weren’t in attendance on that balmy spring day, here are a few excerpts from his address—four lessons “Dr. Jay” shared that were game-changers in his life, on the basketball court and beyond:
“The foundation of the Villanova Basketball program was created in concert with our school motto: Veritas, Unitas, Caritas. Truth, unity and love. We define our core values, we commit to them, and we live by them. We have our own definition of success and failure based on those values—not the ones you may find on TikTok, Twitter or Instagram. It is now time for you to create your own core values. It is time for you to define success and failure. Trust your instincts. Run your own race. Count your blessings. God has a plan for you. I believe you will never go wrong relying on truth, unity and love.”
“This is the cornerstone of Villanova Basketball. You don’t control innate intelligence, your size, your good looks, or your God-given talents. What you do control, though, is your attitude. It gives us the courage to never fear failure. You will fail—it’s one of the few things I can guarantee you. Any of us striving to be our best will fail many times. Failure is always an opportunity. It isn’t comfortable, but it's a great opportunity to control your response.”
“With any success, we want to be humble and share with everyone who contributed. We want to remain hungry to continue to improve and never rest on our laurels. Look around the stadium, at parents, siblings, professors and friends who helped you tap the rock to see it break today. Take the time today to be humble and acknowledge that they were working alongside you each step of the way.”
“Don’t let the world tell you what’s right. Trust your education, trust your family values, trust your faith and your own instincts. Compete hard always. Be your best. Compete together with others. Be a lifetime learner, open to new ideas. Compete with pride for those whom you represent and who you belong to. Enjoy your success. Share it with others. Do not fear failure and accept your destiny. You are your family’s pride and joy. You are Villanova’s gift to the world.”
In 21 seasons as Villanova’s head coach, Jay Wright won two national championships, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021, and earned fans nationwide for his competitive spirit and humble nature.
“As we like to say, he did things the Wright way—guiding, developing and empowering the student-athletes who played for him, not only to be better on the basketball court but also in their personal lives. It's these characteristics that I believe will define Jay's legacy at Villanova University and made Villanova a better university in the process.”
The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, ’75 CLAS, University President
“I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for what Jay has meant to me personally. He taught me how to navigate Villanova, how to navigate Philadelphia and how to navigate the BIG EAST Conference, and in a lot of ways he’s taught me how to navigate life, and why the little things matter. He showed me how to be a cutthroat competitor, but at the same time, have the dignity and grace to always, always treat people well.”
Mark Jackson, Vice President and Director of Athletics
“Jay is not just a coach, he’s a mentor, and he places great value and emphasis on family and developing the whole person. He embodies the values that he instills in the team, that each of us strengthens all of us, and no matter the role you play or how many points you score, it’s about the team.”
The Rev. Rob Hagan, OSA, ’87 CLAS, Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova and Men’s Basketball team chaplain; former Senior Associate Athletic Director
“Our bond has always come from his understanding of me as a human. We had success because he cared enough to know what made me tick. He understood if I was going through something, or wasn’t having a great day—he’s a really good coach because he knows the X’s and O’s, but also because he knows his players on and off the court. When you’re together all the time, you become a family, and Coach Wright really built that family atmosphere into Villanova Basketball.”
Randy Foye, All-American guard on Villanova’s 2005 Sweet Sixteen and 2006 Elite Eight teams; played 12 years in the NBA
Check the Stats
• 2 National Championships
• 4 Final Fours
• 5 BIG EAST Tournament Titles
• 520-197 record as Villanova head coach
• 93 Academic All-BIG EAST recognitions for Men’s Basketball student-athletes since 2012
• 2-time Naismuth National Coach of the Year
• 6-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year
“We have a great basketball family, and it’s going to continue to grow under Kyle’s leadership.”
Kyle Neptune, a veteran assistant coach for the Men’s Basketball team, is the new William B. Finneran Endowed Head Men’s Basketball Coach, succeeding Jay Wright.
Neptune, who served as Fordham University’s head coach for the 2021–22 season, was an ideal fit for the job because of his basketball knowledge, recruiting savvy and natural ability to connect with student-athletes and coaches, says Vice President and Director of Athletics Mark Jackson.
"When looking for a successor to Jay Wright, we wanted a candidate who could navigate the changing landscape of collegiate athletics and keep Villanova in a position of strength—now and in the future," Jackson says. “We found all those attributes and more in Kyle Neptune.”
Wright, who first hired Neptune onto his staff as a video coordinator in 2008, and again as an assistant coach in 2013, said the new head coach was more than prepared for the role. “We have a great basketball family, and it's going to continue to grow under Kyle's leadership. Our dream was to leave the program better than we found it, and the leadership that we have on this team next year is outstanding,” Wright says.
“Jay set the standard for Villanova Basketball, and my job is to continue what he created here,” says Neptune, who will enter the upcoming season with the entire coaching staff returning, a group of incoming freshmen committed, and most of last year’s roster intact. “I’m ready to do it and I can’t wait to get going.”